I’d like to thank all the people who came to attend the court hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court on Monday as well as the attending Journalists, Joe Brack from EF Press, Tareq Haddad from the Watchdog, Mohamed El Maazi from Sputnik and Marty Silk from the Australian Associated Press. Also grateful to photo journalists and documentarians Niels Ladefoged and Barnaby Nerberka their presence outside court filming, gave some comfort to supporters who were outside the court building as they were confronted by Metropolitan police officers. Supporters felt protected by their presence filming everything particularly because they were separating from each other as they adhered to #Covid19 social distancing rules.
Joe Brack’s Report:
Court 3 Judge Baraitser held another hearing to discuss the dates for the full trial which she had suggested November as suitable date last time. There were 6 press and 6 public allowed into court. Despite the clerk suggesting several seats were safely available at the side, Judge Baraitser dismissed with ‘the public gallery is full’, curtly. while at least 5 other members of the public were denied entry.Julian Assange was not on the video link due to being ”unwell’ according to his defence QC Fitzgerald. on the teleconference line along with Mark Summers and for the Prosecution Mr Smith and Mr Lewis.
Judge Baraitser quizzed both defence and prosecution as to their objections’ in July/August to which both defence and prosecution cited other commitments and the difficulty of calling witnesses in that time period. Mr Lewis was unable to attend due to prior case load and was concerned that the US prosecutors should be present in person which was better achievable in September. Baraitser stated that as the 18 May date is now uncertain, the July dates unworkable and accepted that November was too long a wait. She would check the availability at Belmarsh Crown Court for the September dates but could not guarantee it and would also look at other Crown Courts in and outside London. Fitzgerald stated that Belmarsh Crown Court was preferable due to proximity to Julian. Baraitser would inform both sides on Friday by email where and when the full trial would be in September (Monday 7th possibly). Lewis for the prosecution stated ‘we are grateful the court is making an effort in these uncertain times.’ I am not sure if he was complimenting the Judge or disrespecting her uncertainty in judgements.
As the defence and prosecution agree Baraitser has little choice but to accept their suggestion with the caveat that she needs to find an available venue. Always leaving her room for manoeuvre and obfuscation. September full trial now seems likely. She concluded the hearing by setting a date 1 June 2020 for the next 28 day statutory remand detainee review with Julian Assange via video link if he is well enough.
A short hearing where in the court itself the sound quality was much better than before but legal access at Belmarsh is still severely restricted and the public are being denied open justice and many unable witness this show trial in person. The talk in judicial circles is that this extradition case is a poisoned chalice. A bottomless pit of reputational ruination. As John Shipton stated outside the court, ‘the magistrate courts have treated Julian abominably, it’s quite shocking really…….Judge Taylor, Judge Arbuthnot, Judge Baraitser have done nothing to improve the view of British law, in fact they’ve corroded the standing of British law administration.’
Joe Brack EF Press
It’s Marty’s report:
Outside the court, I was asked by the police if I was attending a court hearing and if not, I should go home.
I informed him of my wish to attend the Assange hearing but due to social distancing, there was limited (4) spaces available in the court’s public gallery.
I was told we’re not allowed to protest (gather in groups of more than 2 people) at the moment due to Coronavirus act, this supersedes our human rights.
He said if we go inside, he would make space available for for us. And to be fair, he did double the capacity in the public gallery. I still didn’t make it in.
Four other remained outside, under consistent provocation from the police.
What happened this morning is a bit of a blur as it was nerve-wracking and also literally a blur because I didn’t have my glasses on. Here’s my main memories of it.
There were four of us with placards on the pavement outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court. The police were relaxed for quite a while. They had said something to the others before I got there about wearing face-masks and keeping moving. At some point, they invited us to go into the court – they had spoken to the court and there was room. We all declined. I can’t speak for the others but I’m guessing that we were all outside to more or less the same end: to try to engage other members of the public about Assange/Manning/Wikileaks, to remind them that, incredibly, this is actually happening, here, in our country, now; and to make sure that people see Assange’s face and don’t forget about him. I just want to explain why I/we refused to go in – not on a whim but because the mainstream media are, at best, to say the least, expletive useless when it comes to this case.
Unless you go out of your way to look at alternative media for information about Assange, all you will see of it is the odd bit of glorious street-art and a few people clowning with placards at the side of the road. There are always very well-informed and dedicated people witnessing proceedings in the court-room, that’s taken care of, it’s not what I/we go to do.
A policeman then told me (so presumably the others, too) that, under the pandemic legislation, protesting was unlawful. I said I didn’t think it was and asked whether it had been expressly prohibited. He said no provision had been made for it and I said that that wasn’t the same thing. He said he’d go and talk to the inspector. As the morning went on, they kept disappearing off around the side of the court and coming back with something new, so there appeared to be a channel of communication open from a van (?) somewhere.
He came back and said that protesting wasn’t on the list of permitted activities and it was therefore not permitted. I said (probably not as coherently as this) that I didn’t think something as important as political protest could be banned by being left off a list. He said something to the effect that that it had been banned precisely by being left off the list. We discussed some other things. I said e.g. a dissident who has committed no crime is in our top-security prison and is in poor health. They said (more than one of them by this point) that they could understand our worries about his health but… lots of things about there being a global pandemic, I think their point was that that was a bigger health concern. I said that talking to them was the closest I’d been to anyone all day. They said it wasn’t about that, it was about needing to observe the lockdown and they repeated the invitation for me to go into the courtroom. I said I didn’t see the difference between being in there and being ‘out here’. They said outside was a public space. I missed the opportunity to say that the court was, too.
I’m probably only remembering half of what was said. They were very insistent that the protest was unlawful, to the extent that I began to think perhaps I was wrong (imagine), at which point I said that if what I was doing was civil disobedience then so be it and I was going to carry on. The options we all (I assume) were given were to go inside or be arrested. The conversation went on for some time and got as far as one of them being asked to go and get the paperwork and he left but, much to my relief, nothing came of that. A few minutes later, the officer who had been there from the beginning asked me how long we’d be there for. I said what we usually did was wait until they came out of the court then go our separate ways. A bargain seemed to have been tacitly struck; nothing else was said. I was very shaken because the context was menacing but I must say that the officers themselves were pretty civil throughout and mainly tried to reason with me. That didn’t stop me from feeling freaked-out but I can’t say that was down to their manner.
I think there is some real legal uncertainty about protest during the lockdown and that’s very possibly why it went no further. Hopefully we’ll be able to clear up the exact legal position before the next hearing. Another possible factor was the two journalists (count them, two) who were there, recording the whole thing. They were very quick on their feet, going from one protester to another to catch what was being said. The situation did not turn nasty, nobody was carried off and the impression I got was that the actual officers on the ground would have been reluctant to act. But what if the voice in the van had told them to take us all in? I don’t want overstate it, no need for drama, we would just have been arrested then released. It would all have been ok, we were just protesting when we possibly shouldn’t have been. This is still England, don’t be hysterical, no big deal. But, in the moment, for whatever reason, perhaps my newfound utter paranoia about the country I thought for so long I knew so well and the devastating loss of any certainty about what can and can’t happen here, it felt very reassuring to have two journalists worth the name watching over us. We’re all so sick of the media but those few proper journalists who are left are angels.
The best thing about the demo this morning is that there was a very good ‘beep rate’ from the passing traffic. The wonderful D had made a sign saying ‘BEEP TO FREE ASSANGE’ and it worked really, really well. With a generic sign, quite a lot of drivers beep but surely at least that number again drive by wanting to do something but not knowing what. There are plenty of silent thumbs up and I’m not the only one who has had drivers actually pull up at the side of the road, wind down their window and shout their support. The BEEP sign seemed to consolidate the response today, loads more beeps than usual. So, a clear sign, readable by people driving past, that lets people know how to express their solidarity with Assange/Manning/Wikileaks, works very well.
It seems a small thing but it’s not, it gives an opportunity for much-needed positive engagement. The main point of the demo is that people are reminded that this is happening. But it’s also important for people who are already sympathetic to communicate their view and feel part of the demo as they pass. What’s amazing is that, after everything that has been done to shut people down about this case, there’s still so many out there who do care and are glad of a chance to make some noise about it.
Metropolitan Police dispersing #Assange supporters outside of court. pic.twitter.com/Minqe2EArH
— Tareq Haddad (@Tareq_Haddad) May 4, 2020
#Assange supporters outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court this morning where courtroom was told the extradition hearings will likely commence on 7 September. pic.twitter.com/Jfu5DEWtVY
— Tareq Haddad (@Tareq_Haddad) May 4, 2020
Protestors who were standing many metres apart were threatened with arrest under UK's #COVID19 law outside of Westminster Magistrates'
Court if they didn't return home. This was during #JulianAssange's hearing when most journos and protestors were in Court. pic.twitter.com/AzquWTtDXM
— M. A. E. (@MElmaazi) May 4, 2020
After #JulianAssange's latest extradition hearing finished journalists & supporters assembled outside the court for less than a minute before a gaggle of police (including apparent members of armed police but w/o their guns) quite aggressively shooed us away. pic.twitter.com/LXugJF725k
— M. A. E. (@MElmaazi) May 4, 2020
Three mainstream and four non-mainstream journalists have told me they were unable to listen in to Julian Assange's hearing via conference this morning. Apparently just got hold music because the court clerk didn't unmute the call…lucky I tweeted.#Assange #WikiLeaks
— @MartySilk (@MartySilkHack) May 4, 2020
Some press coverage:
Re the right to protest. This is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights which is given effect in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. That Act is a constitutional Act, which means that it is not subject to implied repeal. That is, to override the Human Rights Act 1998 in any way would require express repeal in the repealing Act (i.e. the repealing Act would have to refer to the Human Rights Act 1998 and state that it is repealed to whatever extent). See Thoburn v. Sunderland City Council  EWHC 195 (Admin) at 60-64. Since the Coronavirus Act 2020 does not expressly repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, it cannot override the rights protected by that Act.
What the above means is that ECHR rights still apply. So, while freedom of expression can be restricted this can only be done to the extent that is necessary and proportionate in a democratic society. A blanket ban on demonstrations can never be proportionate. Ergo, such a ban is unlawful